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Whale safari Tromso: A day out at sea

The whale watching safari in Tromso, Norway is an amazing experience that should not be missed. Having had the chance to go whale watching in almost every country I’ve been to, this experience is by far the most fun in my opinion.

Maybe it’s because of the arctic landscape and being in a cold climate instead of a warm one. The novelty of being in the literal arctic circle doesn’t wear off.

The whales, like many animals, head to a new destination when they are ready to settle down for the winter months and they travel through the fjords on a yearly basis. Because of this continued travel route, the locals have learned when best to spot the whales and in what areas which has allowed them to admire these majestic creatures year after year.

Luckily there are multiple ways they have found to maintain a safe enough distance from the whales so as to not disturb them, and with silent and electric engines on some of their boats, the whale safari tours in Tromso are getting more and more environmentally friendly – something I care so much about!

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Country: Norway – Currency: Krona/NOK – Check if you need a visa here

Orca swimming during a whale safari in Tromso
3 orcas swimming past us

Best time of year to go

Unlike many other trips that can be booked and taken at any time, whale tours in Tromso are another story. Since you will be on the lookout for wild animals, you can only see them for a short period of time.

The period in which you can enjoy a whale watching safari in Tromso is from November until late January. This means that if you travel to this arctic city outside of these months you’re highly unlikely to see any. It’s during this time that the animals are travelling through their typical migration pattern which happens at the same time, to the same places every year.

This makes it much easier for the local tour companies to know when and where the animals will be – even though they are completely wild!

Note: They are wild animals so they can be unpredictable. Although most whale safari tours in Tromso have a very high success rate, there is no 100% guarantee you’ll see them.

If you do happen to book a tour outside of this time period the companies offering the whale watching often change to a general wildlife safari in Tromso instead.

This means you can still enjoy an informative tour which will at least talk about the whales even if you can’t see them. Luckily there are plenty of other types of arctic wildlife around the local area.

Close up of an Orca dorsal fin on a Tromso safari
A close-up of a female orcas fin

Where to book this tour

Luckily for visitors to this arctic town there are multiple places to book these tours. If you’re a little less organised or want to plan after arriving, of course you have the option to speak to the guides in person and join onto a last minute tour. However, you run a high risk of the tours being sold out considering the window for whale watching is fairly small so the tours sell out quite quickly.

I’d recommend booking a tour in advance. The two sites I always like to compare when booking tours and excursions are Viator and Get Your Guide. Most of the companies advertising on one are advertising on the other too!

We will go into more detail of the differences between my favourite 5 whale watching safari tours here, but in the meantime, here are the main ones I would recommend.

Check out this post where I compare the 5 tours above so you can clearly see the differences!

Tromso whale safari with a group of Orcas
a group of 8 orca in front of the Tromso mountains

What wildlife will we see?

If you do happen to see wildlife in Tromso during your whale watching safari there are a specific few species it will likely be. Some animals don’t like the arctic waters so it’s no surprise that only a few head this way. The ones to look out for are as follows:

  • Orcas (also known as killer whales)
  • Humpback whales
  • Harbour porpoises
  • Fin whales
  • Minke whales

Without a doubt the most common animal to see on a wildlife tour from Tromso is the orca. They regularly travel in groups (known as pods) feeding on the herring in the area. The second most common animal is the humpback whale, but there are not as many of them compared to the orcas around here.

Even if you are specifically on a whale tour, that’s not to say you won’t be lucky enough to spot some other local wildlife. Think eider ducks, sea eagles and guillemots to name a few.

Most tours need to start in the morning due to Tromso only having a few hours of daylight during the whale watching season.

keeping warm on a whale boat
Me wrapped up warm at the back of the whale safari boat

What to expect from a whale watching safari

There are 5 top brands offering whale watching safari tours in Tromso and all offer something a little different. They all generally head to the same areas outside of the city but the level of comfort on each boat will differ.

I will cover each individual tour in more detail in another post, but for now I’ll just share with you the general itinerary of the must-do whale watching safari tour so you know what to expect when you book one for your own Tromso trip!

Luckily for us, these tours are always well equipped for having guests. There are always 1 or 2 toilets on board for guest use as well as free hot drinks (coffee, tea and hot chocolate for those non-caffeine drinkers!).

Plus during the time when just travelling to and from the whale watching site, there is a small “shop” where you can purchase a small lunch or snacks. This is typically closed while actually looking for the whales but you’ll be too distracted to need snacks at that moment anyway.

Lastly, as well as having well informed and knowledgeable guides, there will always be life jackets for everyone as well as thermal overalls which are more appropriate for the arctic weather to go over your clothes.

Mountains and two small orca
Two orcas as it begins to get dark

Itinerary

8.30-8.55am: Meet up at the meeting point

Usually you are instructed to meet your guide and group at the boat itself located down on the Tromso harbour. Regardless of where you are staying, the harbour is pretty much the centre of the city so it is easy to get to.

9am: Start the journey

Once everyone has arrived who is expected, guests are invited to take a seat inside while the guides introduce themselves. The guides will give guests a run down on how the day will go and complete a safety demonstration before they allow people to finish getting comfortable.

As this is going on the captain will steer you out of the harbour towards the fjords. Guests are allowed to walk around both inside and on the upper outside deck during the journey.

9am-11.30am: Drive to the whale watching area

It does take a little over 2 hours to get to the area where the whales and orcas can be found. You will head towards the Kvaenangen Fjord which is north of the Tromso region and where the whales spend their time. The journey will take you along the Tromso coastline, to icy parts of the arctic ocean. At times you will be surrounded by snow capped mountains and icy fjords. It is a stunning landscape no matter the weather.

11.30am-2.30pm: Look out for orcas and whales

Once you’re located in this area, all you need to do is look out for the wildlife. Orcas are easy to spot with their huge black dorsal fins. Humpback whales however, are a lot harder to spot. This is of course the best part of the entire tour as this is the time when you’re expected to (hopefully) see some of these fascinating creatures.

Your guides will help look for the animals and direct the captain in their direction. You’ll notice other boats nearby, so often, as to not scare the whales away the captain leaves a lot of space so as to not disturb them. You’ll have access to the entire upper deck for 360 views around the fjordlands watching these animals come up from underwater.

It’s quite rare to see whales breach so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see it. Some guides go years without seeing this happen and they do these tours everyday!

You will likely see orcas’ fins and heads appear out of the water and then swimming in groups. If you see a humpback whale it’s likely to just be their back and tail. Although these are the most likely features, it is not to say you see something out of the ordinary.

2.30pm-4pm: Travel back to Tromso harbour

By this stage, the majority of the guests aboard the boat are cold, tired and ready to head back. The arctic climate really can make you tired much quicker if you’re out in it too long (my guess is the shivering tires you out).

On my boat it was at this stage on the 2 hour journey back that most people got comfortable in their chairs and had a nap (I did too!). It’s just too easy to fall asleep when you are finally warm after a day freezing your butt off in northern Norway!

tour group wearing arctic suits in Tromso
A group of passengers on my whale tour wearing the provided arctic thermals

How to prepare

What to bring:

Bring layers. This is the arctic afterall and it gets COLD. Even if you wear the provided thermal overalls, it is still worth wearing multiple layers underneath. You may feel warm whilst inside the boat, but whale watching on the Arctic sea for multiple hours is cold work.

Fully charged electronics. I can almost guarantee that you’re going to want to take A LOT of photos or videos. Seeing whales in their natural habitat is a beautiful thing so you should want to remember it. Don’t let yourself down by bringing half-flat electronics.

Bring extra batteries. There’s something about the cold that makes electronics stop working correctly. Not only could your devices start to lag and freeze, but your battery life will be drained much quicker when cold too. Bring extras where you can and keep them wrapped up warm.

Bring seasickness medication. If you are prone to seasickness or you think you might feel nauseous on the arctic sea, consider bringing some pills with you. The guides are often not allowed to give you any themselves.

What to do:

Learn how to use your devices. There is nothing more frustrating than having no idea how to use something properly when you need it. Take the time BEFORE your trip to learn about the settings you can use to make your experience easier. Try a fast shutter or various light settings at home.

Listen to the guides. They are the guides for a reason. They’re the experts and do this tour regularly. If you hear a guide tell you there are whales on the other side of the boat, listen and go see. If you don’t you might miss your chance to see them.

Stay safe. Not only are you in freezing temperatures on this tour but you’re also on a boat. That means there are some safety measures you should adhere to. Stay away from the edge of the boat and try not to fall overboard.

sunset mountains
Sunset during our whale tour

Other activities in Tromso

Tromso is a fantastic destination in both the summer and winter time. However, if you are visiting to see the whales, you will only be here during the winter so I want to suggest a few activities you can enjoy in the winter.

Northern lights – There are multiple ways to see this natural phenomenon around Tromso, both in a tour and independently.

Hiking – Since there is coastline, mountains and fjords at every turn there are countless hikes in the area with breathtaking views. One popular hike in the city is the Sherpatrappa (aka cable car) hike

Explore the islands – There are countless islands in the region with exciting land to explore. Grab a rental car and road trip to see it all. This is something you can do regardless of the season!

Snow sports – It’s the arctic. There will be snow. You can go snowshoeing, skiing or snowmobiling in Tromso after your whale watching safari.

See Reindeer – You can enjoy a sleigh ride and feed them after at one of the popular reindeer farms.

Pet huskies – You can be driven by a sled or you can watch little pups getting trained for sleds.

Admire the city – There is unique architecture and such beautiful scenery you could enjoy a stroll through the shopping streets or attend a concert at the cathedral.

sunset over traomso fjords on a whale safari
The view from the back of our boat heading back to Tromso

Where to Stay in Tromso?

If you are planning on staying in Tromso you’ll be pleased to know that there are accommodations to suit any person’s budget. Let’s take a look at these below:

Aurora’s Friends Apartment – This is regularly listed as one of the lowest priced accommodations and is a very sociable hostel. It is very basic but what more do you need when you’re likely to be out looking for whales all day and chasing the northern lights at night? You’ll barely be in the accommodation anyway!

Radisson Blu – This is a much more up-scale accommodation for those who want pure luxury during their stay. If you’re in less of a rush and have more money to spare then this is a visitor favourite and most tours will collect people from outside the front entrance.

Did you make your way to Tromso yet?

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